June 21, 2021 Interviews

Interview with Felice Biancardi, Co-Founder of Golee, the SaaS solution for digitalising Sports Clubs and Federations

Felice Biancardi is the Co-Founder and Head of Sales of Golee, the SaaS solution for digitalising Sports Clubs and Federations.

Felice is also an Early-Stage Mentor at StarBoost, an entrepreneurial movement that brings together serial entrepreneurs, investors, advisors and mentors.

Before becoming an entrepreneur, Felice worked as Account Manager at SAS and was the Founder of Gradwin, a career development platform for students and professional.

Felice graduated in Business Administration and Management at Bocconi University and received a Master in Management and International Business from IE Business School.

In 2018, you decided to found Golee, a SaaS solution for digitalising Sports Clubs and Federations. What led you to this decision and how did the idea of Golee come about?

Felice: I have a double degree at IE Business School and UCLA, and when I was in California, I got acquainted with several talent development methodologies used in the university world.

Shortly afterwards, while on holiday, I met Tommaso Guerra, co-founder of Golee, who is a former football player and who was also studying in the US. At that time, Tommaso was trying to develop an application to support football players’ careers. Something very similar to the methodologies used by colleges in the U.S.

We looked deeper at the sports industry, and we realised that most sports clubs lagged from a technological point of view, but also an operational and managerial point of view. For example, very few clubs used software and management tools for their day-by-day operations, many of them had outdated websites or did not monetise on merchandising.

Therefore, we decided to do something to help the sports world. Tommaso brought his knowledge of the sports industry, I brought my IT and software skills, and the experience I developed at SAS and university.

We spent a year and a half talking to a lot of sports clubs, Italian and not, and we realised that many sports clubs were not able to make money or even make it to the end of the year. So, we decided to create a platform for them, a product that could change and digitalise the ecosystem.

So, Golee is a management software system tailored for the sports world, with applications for coaches and athletes and other social tools. Can you tell us more about the business model of the company?

Felice: Golee is a platform that digitalises all administrative, financial and sporting activities of sports clubs. We provide the first layer of services free of charge, and then we offer other services for a fee.

Thanks to Golee, sports clubs can manage data in compliance with the European DGPR regulation, can create and easily update websites of their clubs, can offer applications for athletes, coaches, parents, can use our modules for organising training and matches, get statistics on athletes, etc.

Our main goal is to elevate and professionalise the sports clubs. In addition to sports clubs, we work with federations and professionals, to whom we offer specific modules and services.

Our typical customers are sports clubs that cannot afford the latest technology on the market (95% of the market). We are the commercial channel of some high-tech providers, trying to democratise certain high-level services.

At the moment, we only target football as a sport. But we plan to expand into other sports starting from next year.

So, Golee is a platform that connects clubs, federations, athletes, parents, coaches and managers. All communicating together, each with different interfaces. We decided to involve all the players in the world of sport because it is the whole ecosystem that needs to change, with a tool that professionalises and makes everyone communicate.

What results have you achieved until now? Did the COVID-19 impact your business? And how did you react?

Felice: For us, the COVID-19 was a nice boost.

Before COVID-19 we had 200 registered sports clubs, about 85% of them paying customers.

Then came the pandemic that put sports clubs in crisis. And thanks to Golee we were able to help sports clubs at such a difficult time. Many people in the world of sport have always been resistant to change. COVID-19 was a kind of “slap in the face” that made them wake up and realise that they either had to adopt digital tools to manage their activities, or they simply couldn’t work anymore. And we were a tool. We offered companies our free product. They then started buying additional services.

Today we have more than 1,800 clubs as customers. In less than 12 months we have become the Italian market leader, and we are the first European company in terms of sports clubs managed through a digital tool. By the end of the year, we aim to reach 4,000 clubs and to exceed 35% market share in the Italian football market.

Moreover, during the pandemic, we also closed several partnerships with local federations. We joined the Hype Sports Innovation incubator in Tel-Aviv. We are also working on entering Qatar and the EMEA Region, as well as Spain.

In February 2021 you closed a crowdfunding campaign, raising € 1.3 million. Then, a few days ago, you announced the acquisition of Ticket Trust, an e-ticketing startup. Can you tell us more about these? What are the plans with Golee for the future?

Felice: In the last two and a half years we have raised, between private investors, crowdfunding and the Smart & Start Italy support program, about € 2.3 million. By the end of the year, we would like to raise another € 3 million to go abroad and serve other sports. To date, we are the most funded Italian startup in the world of sport.

The acquisition of Ticket Trust was a strategic operation because it is very complementary to what we are already doing. Golee’s objective is to give value to sports clubs, and offer a series of certified services, based on their size and needs. We currently offer 7 services, but we could potentially offer around 50 services. And we can’t do this totally on our own. That’s why, when one of our latest investors describes his ticketing company, Ticket Trust, we liked it straight away. For the product, which is a multisport tool already integrated with SIAE – that we would have to develop in the future – and for the founders, who joined the Golee team.

This is not our first acquisition. Two years ago, we acquired a multisport software, My Sporting Cloud, which belonged to one of our shareholders.

At Golee we are currently 20 full-time people, the oldest is 30 years old. We will hire 10 more people in the next 12 months, mainly in the technology team, as we plan to develop payment solutions, marketplaces, integrations with big brands to sell merchandise and sportswear, and other services.

One last question. What do you think of the Italian startup ecosystem? What’s your view of the future?

Felice: Everyone always tells me that it’s very difficult to do business in Italy, but it depends on how you go about it. There are some logics that you need to know, and knowing the right people certainly helps.

The startup ecosystem is developing a lot: in addition to Milan, Rome, Naples and Turin are also developing. Hubs of innovation are being created. But the problem is that there is still little education on how to create startups and how to convey funding to young people. There is a great offer of micro-financing solutions for start-ups (grants, business angels, etc..), but there is a huge gap between these financing options and Series A financing; seed financing is missing.

When a company has a turnover of over a million euro, you probably can easily find financial resources. The problem is to get there, it takes 2 or 3 years, and in the meantime, it is very hard to find someone helping and believing in you, it seems you are in a too risky phase for the conservative Italian investor. Now, something seems to be changing, but we are still far behind other European countries.

Many people also ask me why I don’t move to other countries. The reason is that I’m very happy in Italy and I am used to the logic of the Italian ecosystem. Moreover, with Golee we operate in a sector where there is still a lot to do.

Thanks to our presence in Tel-Aviv and our relationship with Qatar we will try to bring technology and capital to Italy and the sports industry. From the perspective of an ecosystem, we are ready to collaborate with those who want to improve the world of sport, whether Italian or not.

So, we will stay in Italy. It’s good here, you can do business. Maybe you have to be a bit smart in certain situations, but with the right amount of willpower, you can do anything.


For more info on Golee, visit: https://golee.it/en/